Giant pangolin

Manis gigantea

SUBFAMILY

Smutsiinae

TAXONOMY

Manis gigantea Illiger, 1815, type locality not known. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Pangolin géant; Spanish: Pangoli gigante. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Giant pangolins have a head and body length of 30-36 in (75-90 cm), a tail length of 18-30 in (50-80 cm), and a weight of 55-80 lb (25-35 kg). The female is smaller than the male. They are strictly ground dwelling (terrestrial) animals with broad sole cushions and blunt claws on the hind feet, and with forefeet containing large digging claws. The species is the largest of the order Pholidota. They have large grayish brown scales, with whitish skin and sparse hairs. The tongue measures the longest of the seven species, at about 16-27 in (40-70 cm), and can be pushed out 14-16 in (36-40 cm). The salivary glands, which supply the tongue with tacky saliva to which ants and termites adhere, are the size of goose eggs. They do not have external ears, have scales on the tail (but do not have scales beneath the tail), and have a breastbone that is very long.

DISTRIBUTION

Along the equator in Africa, from Senegal to Uganda and Angola.

HABITAT

Giant pangolins prefer tropical rainforests, but will also inhabit forests and savannas. They do not occupy high altitudes. They usually live near water. Burrows may be up to 16 ft (5 m) deep and 130 ft (40 m) long.

BEHAVIOR

They are nocturnal and ground-dwelling (terrestrial) animals, being active mainly between midnight and dawn when searching for food. Giant pangolins generally are observed singly, but pairs can be found with young. Terrestrial burrows are dug in which to sleep inside during the day. They often dig around large termite nests, both above and below the ground, using powerful fore-claws. The species uses slow and deliberate movements. When walking on all four legs, they curl in their front paws to protect the sharp front claws, actually walking on the outside of the wrists rather than on the palms. They can walk only on the hind limbs, with the help of their long tail for balance. Giant pangolins often hide inside or under stilt or platform roots of large trees.

If threatened, giant pangolins will often roll themselves into a ball, a technique that protects themselves against most enemies. If necessary, they will lash out against enemies with their sharp-scaled tail and spray urine and anal gland secretions. If near water, they will plunge into the water, rather than roll up, where they can stay underwater for considerable time, either swimming below the surface or walking along the bottom. At times a giant pangolin may rise on its hind legs and even attempt to defend itself by waving its immense fore-claws at its adversary. Unfortunately, with poor eyesight and hearing, they usually have problems identifying where their possible attackers are located.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

They have a limited diet, feeding mostly on termites and ants but also sometimes eating larger insects. Their large digging claws enable them to tear open the subterranean and mounds-type nests made by ground termites. They may eat up to 200,000 ants in a night, with a stomach capacity of 0.5 gal (2 l). A ready access to drinking water is a necessity.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The gestation period is about five months. Females give birth to one young at a time. Young are usually born in an underground nest. Weight at birth is 14.2-17.8 oz (400-500 g). Newborns have soft scales, which will harden in several days. Newborns cannot walk on their legs, but are active and can crawl around on their stomachs. They will accompany their mother on feeding trips, often sitting on the base of her tail. Weaning, sexual maturity, and life span are unknown.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened, but deforestation for timber, agricultural development, and urban development have decreased the size of their habitat.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

They are hunted for meat, however in some tribes its meat is forbidden to be eaten. ♦

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